Digital printing has had a far greater impact on the document market segment than on packaging or publishing. While the latter represents enormous untapped volumes, there are significant barriers to inkjet adoption including printing costs, productivity and application fit. Within the document market, the top three print application categories from a volume perspective include; marketing collateral, direct mail and transactional. The penetration of digital printing is very high for direct mail and transaction print, but lags for marketing collateral.
While the conversion of marketing collateral from offset to digital may not be high, the value for digitally printed collateral is often much higher than other applications, typically driven by shorter run lengths, versioning and personalization. This has created excellent revenue opportunities for commercial printers who specialize in this area.
Currently only about 10% of marketing collateral is printed digitally and there continue to be barriers to expanding the digitally printed share. The majority of the non-digital volume is ordered in run-lengths that are too high to be economically viable for toner based printing. Inkjet printing, with a more compelling cost curve relative to offset, offers better potential to penetrate and convert offset pages and value. Substrate and print quality requirements that have served as barriers in the past are coming down, if not totally eliminated. Inkjet OEMs have evolved specific capabilities to meet these quality expectations such as high density pigment inks, UV curable inks, primers, coatings, screening engines and print head advancements. Because these capabilities can exist in many combinations and are suitable with different substrates, significant testing is typically required to ensure that expectations will be met.
Inkjet Insight has defined a category of marketing collateral that is suitable for production on (many) inkjet devices – and we track devices and papers suitable for its production. In looking at the potential to convert from offset to inkjet, applications must be considered in terms of requirements such as run length, image fidelity, substrate flexibility, post coatings and foils. Of course, once a need for personalization – or versioning that significantly reduces run lengths, inkjet becomes the obvious answer. Within inkjet devices targeting the commercial sector, there are distinctions between the speed and quality that can be achieved on a high speed continuous aqueous inkjet device and what can be accomplished with UV curable production inkjet – currently only available as sheet fed devices (see chart)
Comparative Technology Analysis
Values are based on average capabilities of roll fed aqueous pigment devices on the market.
While there is still a significant volume of commercial marketing collateral work that is not in the inkjet wheelhouse, the chart above demonstrates that there are categories of work that are suitable. There are significant opportunities for growing inkjet’s share of marketing collaeral. Inkjet Insight defines Commercial Marketing Collateral suitable for inkjet as applications, typically classified under “commercial print,” that use a wide range of stocks and have high color quality and coverage requirements. Applications may include brochures, posters, greeting cards and calendars with the potential for virtually 100 percent Visual Coverage and Total Ink Coverage (TIC/TAC) of up to 260 percent.
A broad range of substrates are required with basis weight ranges from 145 to 250 gsm. However, it’s not uncommon for applications to far exceed this range and Device Finder lists a number of presses available to support those heavier requirements. There is a big push to print on offset grades without the need for primers or spot coatings, in addition to use of inkjet formulated papers. Pigment, particularly high density pigment, or UV curable inks offer the best fit for the image quality and durability requirements for these applications, as well as, enabling production on offset grades.
The need for high print quality includes the color gamut, image quality and text quality. Therefore, it is important to test KPIs such as:
We look at a segment requirements and tolerances for the following KPIs:
- Visual Coverage
- Total Ink Coverage
- Black Optical Density
- Black Ink Strike
- Process Color Optical Density
- Average Process Color Ink Strike
- Positive Small Text Raggedness – Black Text
- Reverse Small Text Raggedness – Black Text
- Gamut Volume
With new advances in print heads and ink sets, we need to also consider that some devices may have both a standard black ink, which we refer to as Matte K and a high density pigmented black or fast immobilizing black pigment (HD K) in the same device. In these cases, we need to discuss relevant KPIs for both Matte K and HD K.
Also, if working with fluids such as pre and post coating, testing needs to be conducted with all combinations of fluids that will be used in production.
There are a number of drivers for print providers to invest in inkjet printing for marketing collateral:
- Increased competition for existing toner pages
- Opportunity and competition for untapped analog pages
- Extract more value from converting analog pages
As mentioned earlier, you can charge a lot more for marketing collateral and inkjet printing offers an attractive opportunity to disrupt the market. Do you agree that we have reached the point of a minimally viable solution for these applications? Will the volume come from existing toner work, high volume commodity jobs, or value-added analog jobs which weren’t economically viable for toner printing? I’d love to hear from you.